Within the span of a year into the pandemic, the country, which has a reputation of being the biggest manufacturers of drugs globally, has enlisted the faculties of companies such as Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to produce vaccines to fight the coronavirus at a record speed, and distribute it to inoculate as many as 300 mn individuals over the next few months i.e. about 20 per cent of our 1.3 bn strong population.
While the indigenously produced COVID-19 vaccines will be prioritised and offered to frontline workers and healthcare staffers to start with, approximately in the range of 30 mn people, those over 50 and other high-risk individuals are next in line. Tamil Nadu has received as many as 5.36 lakh doses of the Covishield vaccine developed by the SII in collaboration with Oxford University and AstraZeneca and another 20,000 doses of Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech. These will be distributed to 300 vaccination sites during Phase 1 of the drive.
While the logistics and healthcare machinery of the country is operating tirelessly to ensure the delivery of the vaccines to those who need it most, the exercise is also riddled with a few concerns, which are endemic to nations such as India. A few days ago, it was reported that three nurses in UP one of them dead, another retired, and yet another who had resigned, had been registered to receive the COVID shot in the first phase of vaccination. While the blame was passed on delay in updating of records, it is just one of the incidents that highlights the need for effective coordination, both locally, and between states and the Centre.
Here in Tamil Nadu, the Health Secretary had gone on record this week to state that hospitals that are unwilling to vaccinate their staffers will not be compelled into doing so. It seems like a logical measure to follow as many sections of the healthcare fraternity had recently expressed their reservations concerning the rollout of vaccines before the completion of all phases of trials. A bone of contention has also been the lack of transparency vis-a-vis the sharing of trial data. What’s made things murkier is that there is a marked absence of enthusiasm among senior political leaders, both locally as well as nationally, when it comes to the notion of being vaccinated in Phase 1.
A representative of the Doctor’s Association for Social Equality had emphasised that if the masses were to be won over, about being inoculated, senior leaders including the Prime Minister, Home Minister, as well as the Union and State Health Ministers must first get vaccinated. It almost seems like a fair argument considering how even in the United States, President-elect Joe Biden got himself the second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer. One could say that his actions might have also served as a shot in the arm of anti-vaxxers who had until then been sceptical about the efficacy of the COVID vaccine.
With a nervous public, already worn out by the pandemic, besieged with worries about job insecurity and children losing a school year, it’s very important that the vaccine drive that kicks off on January 16 rolls out smoothly, with adequate help at hand from trained resources to reassure all those who will receive this potentially lifesaving jab. What is not needed are leaders from various political parties who may attempt to hijack the occasion with photo-ops to earn brownie points for the upcoming elections. All stakeholders must treat this with the discipline and order that it deserves.